15 meditations are presented examining the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi and through them how to bring simplicity and spirituality into your daily life. Our intent through this meditation theme is to show you how the life of this beloved thirteenth-century man has offer us guidance on our journey to become more like Christ and to experience a greater peace and joy in our lives.
Simplicity Part I
Over the first few days we'll start with the topic of simplicity... we will then move to many of the virtues and practices that have been at the heart of the monastic way for centuries. We're confident that if your are willing to practice and immerse yourself in simplicity you will enrich your life a great deal!
Preach always and if necessary use words. -Francis
It seems that if ever there was a time when the virtue of simplicity was desperately needed, it's in our own fast-paced, consumer-oriented, information-overloaded era. Francis had good reasons for believing his own day needed a big dose of simple living.
Living during a time when money was rapidly replacing barter as the primary medium of exchange, Francis saw huge socioeconomic barriers between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots.' The carnality of his age seemed to overwhelm everything, including the church.
Though Francis spent the first twenty-four years of his life in luxury and indulgence. He spent the next twenty-one years in austere, self imposed poverty, the result of his life changing encounter with the living Christ and his no-hold's-barred commitment to follow the example of Jesus, whose earthly life was a model of simple living, from His birth in a dingy stable to his crucifixion on a common criminal cross.
As Francis reflected on the life and words of Jesus, he was confronted time and time again with Christ's simple lifestyle, His warning about the dangers of money, and His commandments to His followers to sell all they owned and give the profits to the poor.
In Francis's day as in our own, this radical Jesus wasn't the subject of many Sunday sermons. But as he studied the teachings of Jesus, Francis was inspired by many lessons on simplicity, including this one, from the Sermon on The Mount.
-Lessons of St. Francis ~John Michael Talbot.
Matthew 6: 25-34
25 "For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 "And who of you by being worried can (36) add a single hour to his life? 28 "And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' 32 "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
33 "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. -Jesus
Simplicity Part II
"If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark." -John of the Cross
Psalm 1 ~ 1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
Jeremiah 17 ~ 7 Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD And whose trust is the LORD. 8 For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit.
Just outside the Indiana farmhouse where I lived as a young man stood several large mulberry trees that seemed like they were a part of the house, or even members of our family. One day these beloved trees endures a three-hour attack by a uniformed professional crew wielding chain saws and hydraulic ladders. Quickly and efficiently the crew sawed, trimmed , and pruned the trees, reducing a large and leafy mass to a skeleton of a few stark, naked limbs hanging from lonely trunks surrounded by mounds of sawdust and leaves.
I felt certain the trees would never recover from the assault. But to my surprise, the following spring these trees grew larger and fuller than ever before, bursting forth in an extravagant display of flowers, leaves, and mulberries. Instead of killing off my beloved trees, the process of pruning helped them blossom into their fullest productivity.
What's good for the mulberry trees is good for us, too, and the virtue of simplicity is a time-tested tool that we can use to prune our lives. Voluntarily submitting our lives to an ongoing pruning process removes our irregularities, trims our unproductive growth, and prepares us for a future of fruitfulness and productivity.
Francis and his followers didn't view simplicity as a specialized discipline for monks or other unusual individuals seeking advanced degrees in enlightenment. Instead, they saw it as the garden from which all other spiritual virtues grow, and a prerequisite to our being both full human and fully spiritual. Like the branches of an unpruned tree, our attachment to possessions and wealth often chokes our lives, enslaves our souls, and hinders both human community and union with God. Francis prescribed simplicity as an antidote to our often unquenchable yearning for more and ever more.
- Lessons of St. Francis ~ John Michael Talbot
"If we had any possessions we should be forced to have arms to protect them, since possessions are a cause of disputes and strife, and in many ways we should be hindered from loving God and our Neighbor. Therefore, in this life, we wish to have no temporal possessions. - Francis.
"Give and it shall be given unto you." - Jesus - Luke 6:38
"...He said... it is finished!" And he bowed His head and gave up His spirit." John 19:30
"... Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, "look at us!" And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene-- WALK!" Acts 3:3-6
Simplicity Part III
"What benefit will it be to you if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?" - Jesus ~ Mark 8
Is your life so hectic that you feel anxious, out of control, or depressed? Are you so busy working to make money to buy time-saving devices that you don't have any time to use them? Do you spend more time taking care of your possessions than you do enjoying your relationships with others and God?
If so, sit down for a few minutes and reflect on the following questions.
1. Do I have some possessions that complicate my life but don't really bring me any enjoyment?
2. What are some things that do bring me enjoyment but may not be worth the cost in time, money, and concern?
3. Do I buy things that I don't need, won't use, or can't afford?
4. What do I really need and what do I merely want?
5. Am I consuming more than my fair share of the world's limited resources? What am I doing to help those who are less fortunate than myself? Is there some of my surplus that could benefit others with less?
-Pray about simplifying your life. Here's a basic prayer you can use as a model.
"God, give me new eyes to see my life as You see it. And give me a new heart to sense the difference between my wants and my needs. Give me compassion for the suffering of the world, and a willingness to help those who are hurting. -Amen"
As you can see, the practice of simplicity isn't necessarily simple or easy. Like the pruning of a tree, the practice of simplicity requires that things be cut away, sometimes with pain. But in the long run, this is a practice that enables us to live life with more joy, peace, and happiness.
Many of us are so busy that we accomplish little of any real value. We are so consumed by our many possessions that we never experience what it means to have much. Many of us spend less time with our families, or with God, than did primitive hunter-gathers who lived lives of subsistence and daily survival.
Simplicity is God's grand antidote to a culture of money and madness. And properly understood and lived out, simplicity is God's pruning shear, which cuts back the tangled branches of our lives, enabling us to begin living freely, sharing generously, and loving deeply.
- Lessons of St. Francis ~ John Michael Talbot
Treasures in Heaven
19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. -Jesus ~ Matthew 6
'Tis the gift to be simple
'Tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.
-Traditional Shaker Hymn
"THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD." And He closed the book... "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." -Jesus ~ Luke 4:18-21
"Bring my soul out of prison so that I may give thanks to your name" Psalm 142:7
Francis was know as a man of peace, and in the seven centuries since his death, the Franciscan movement has been known for building bridges of communication, understanding, and cooperation's between warring people, groups, and nations.
It's surprising, then, to see that this man of peace was born into a period of incredible turbulence, strife, violence and warfare. In his lifetime, Europe's once unshakable feudal system was breaking apart under the assaults of hundreds of small-scale peasant revolts. And Italy's provinces and cities were ensnared in an ongoing strife that led to a near-continual state of war.
During his youth. Francis watched as his own town of Assisi was wracked by a civil war, during which the castles belonging to the town's feudal nobles were destroyed, as well as a long-running conflict with the nearby town of Perugia. Shortly after Francis twentieth birthday, the conflict with Perugia erupted into outright war. Inspired by patriotism and youthful pride, Francis enlisted, but before he saw a battle he was captured and put in prison, where he languished for nearly a year.
Two years later, Francis set out again for war, this time in a papal army bound for the Crusades. But during this assault he was captured by Jesus, the Prince of Peace. On his way to battle, Francis was stopped dead in his tracks by a vision of God. He tried to understand the vision, but his experience was a little like someone trying to broadcast on a malfunctioning radio. Instead of receiving a complete program for his life, Francis only got bits and pieces of a complex puzzle, which he spent most of the next year desperately trying to unscramble. In the process, he came to a deep faith in God, gave himself to living a life that Jesus led, and turned away from the pursuit of warfare to the practice of peace.
Today millions of people around the world carry a copy of the St. Francis Peace Prayer in their wallets, tape it to their computers at work, or hang it on the walls of their homes. Although no one is really sure Francis himself actually wrote the prayer, it embodies his commitment to peace and his willingness to give of himself to make it a living reality.
- Lessons of St. Francis ~ John Michael Talbot
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life
Prayer of St. Francis
"We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way." -Francis
And it happened, as He was alone praying,
Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.
And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on a mountain by Himself to pray. And when evening had come, He was alone there.
And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray.
Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
Choose a suitable time for recollection and frequently consider the loving-kindness of God. Do not read to satisfy curiosity or to pass the time, but study such things as move your heart to devotion. If you avoid unnecessary talk and aimless visits, listening to news and gossip, you will find plenty of suitable time to spend in meditation on holy things. The greatest Saints used to avoid the company of men (Heb.11:38) whenever they were able, and chose rather to serve God in solitude. A wise man once said `As often as I have been among men, I have returned home a lesser man. (Seneca,Epist.VII) We often share this experience, when we spend much time in conversation. It is easier to keep silence altogether than not to talk more than we should. It is easier to remain quietly at home than to keep due watch over ourselves in public. Therefore, whoever is resolved to live an inward and spiritual life must, with Jesus, withdraw from the crowds (Mark 6:31). No man can live in the public eye without risk to his soul, unless he who would prefer to remain obscure. No man can safely speak unless he would gladly remain silent. No man can safely command, unless he has learned to obey well. No man can safely rejoice, unless he possesses the testimony of a good conscience. - Thomas a Kempis ~ On the Love of Solitude and Silence
Ponder a pond.... on a still day, its surface is like a mirror, reflecting clouds, and the brilliance of the sun. Then, if your eyes penetrate the surface and look into the calm, motionless, you can see clear down to the bottom, with its rocks and pebbles. Occasionally, a fish or a frog will swim past in this beautiful, translucent pool.
But things change when the pond is disturbed by a rock, a bounding dog, or a group of active children. Sooner than you can say splash, the surface is agitated by ripples, drops, and waves under the surface is shot with air bubbles and clouded with mud.
In many ways, our live are like ponds. When things are calm, you can see clear down to the bottom, and detect the slightest movement and motion. But when things are unsettled, everything's murky and impenetrable. Unfortunately, few of us have lives that are like a still, serene pond. For most of us, life is more like a kitchen blender, its engine humming, its blades purring and its motion making a puree of the elements of our fast paced, turbulent lives.
Francis was no hermit. He lived a full and active life surrounded by fellow friars or people in need. But Francis also knew the value of solitude, silence, and stillness. He sought these treasures whenever he could, and they gave his work in the world a grounded stability that made the investment worthwhile. Likewise, our lives will be fuller and more effective if we learn how to practice the quiet virtues of solitude, silence and stillness. -Lessons of St. Francis ~ John Michael Talbot
"Contemplation is nothing else but a secret, peaceful and loving infusion of God, which, if admitted, will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love." -John of the Cross.
He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it...
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,
and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, "See how He loved him!"
a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."
Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."
Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
It wasn't until the late nineteenth century that doctors discovered the microscopic bacteria responsible for leprosy, a contagious disease that attacks the skin and the nerves, causing deformed features and nerve damage, as well as blindness and paralysis.
Before then, people often didn't know what to make of lepers. Was their ailment physiological, or was it caused by some kind of sin? Regardless of the cause, everyone pretty much thought it best to isolate lepers. For most ancient and modern history, people with leprosy suffered alone in enclaves of the infected, shut off from everyone else. Though these sanctuaries were deemed holy by the church, most churches closed the doors of their hearts to them.
Francis grew up with a strong distaste for the sight and smell of lepers, with their oozing sores, foul rags, hideous faces, and stubby hands. As one biographer recalled. "So greatly loathsome was the sight of lepers to him . . . he would look at their houses only from a distance of two miles and he would hold his nostrils with his hands.
But as Francis began to turn his heart and his mind over to God, things began to change. One day when Francis was riding down a road near Assisi he saw a leper approaching from a distance. He felt all the familiar feelings -- the discomfort, the fear, the nausea, the desire to flee -- as the lonely leper came closer and closer. But Francis, ennobled and enabled by God's grace, got down off his mule, walked up to the leper, and kissed him.
"When I was in sins, it seemed extremely bitter to me to look at lepers," recalled the saint, "and the Lord himself led me among them and I practiced mercy with them." Soon, Francis was living at a leprosy hospital, caring for the lepers' needs and washing their wounds. And as Francis's movement grew, many of the friars lived with and served lepers, whom the call "our Christian brothers."
But something deeper happened that day Francis first kissed the leper. A line had been crossed. Listening to his heart instead of his fears, he had ventured out beyond his comfort zone and reached out to another in love and compassion. And having done so this once, it became easier to do so again and again. Soon he learned to express the same charity toward the chronically poor, the socially outcast, the lonely, the insane, and others. Gradually, the love of God overflowed in his life and that lover overcame his self-protection. These small victories changed the direction of his movement, and of human history.
- The Lessons of St. Francis ~ John Michael Talbot
Joy Part I
(Spiritual Mediation of Joy & Freedom)
Part one will present the foundation of part two... just simply rest today in these scriptures. Maybe even now take the time to rest, if you wish, for only 5 minutes and meditate on their precepts. Meditate on the promise of complete joy and absolute freedom and in Christ Jesus. Part 2 will build upon these verses and passages of scripture with another short story of our beloved friend and spiritual forefather Francis of Assisi.
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;
and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Protect them, so all who love your name may be filled with joy. Psalm 5:11
I will be filled with joy because of you. I will sing praises to your name, O Most High. Psalm 9:2
No wonder my heart is filled with joy, and my mouth shouts his praises! My body rests in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your godly one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. Psalm 16:9-11.
As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands. Psalm 119:143
We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, "What amazing things the Lord has done for them." Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy! Psalm 126:2-3
Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest. Psalm 126:5-6
May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth If I fail to remember you, if I donít make Jerusalem my highest joy. Psalm 137:6
Thanksgiving for Deliverance from Death.
I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up,
And have not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me.
O LORD, You have brought up my soul from Sheol;
You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit.
Sing praise to the LORD, you His godly ones,
And give thanks to His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for a lifetime;
Weeping may last for the night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.
Now as for me, I said in my prosperity,
"I will never be moved."
O LORD, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong;
You hid Your face, I was dismayed.
To You, O LORD, I called,
And to the Lord I made supplication:
"What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?
"Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me;
O LORD, be my helper."
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,
That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." And He said, "Write, for these words are faithful and true." Then He said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. "He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son." Revelations 21:3-7
Reading about the life of Francis is like stepping onto some kind of religious roller coaster. His passionate and sometimes impulsive emotional life was full of lofty peaks as well as deep, dark valleys. But one thing's for sure; It wasn't bland.
Thomas of Celano, a follower of Francis and one of his earliest biographers, frequently described the simple saint's religious reveries: "Sometimes this most holy man was out of his mind for God in a wonderful manner." Francis could be inspired to heights of inexpressible joy by the sight of a butterfly or the scent of a flower. One biographer tells how Francis was overcome by the gentle music of a lute: "The holy father enjoyed so much the sweetness in that melodious song that he thought he had been transported to another world.
Of course he could experience great sorrow, brought about by the slightest recollection of the sorrows of his savior. Often, he experienced giddy joy and jarring grief simultaneously. He firmly believed that God, who created us with a vibrant set of emotions, wanted us to let those emotions be a part of how we experience life.
Occasionally, his fellow friars unintentionally stumbled upon Francis when he sought to express his overflowing joy: "Sometimes Francis would act in the following way. When the sweetest melody of spirit would bubble up in him, he would give exterior expression to it in French, and the breath of the divine whisper which his ear perceived in secret would burst forth in French in a song of joy.
"At times, as we saw with our own eyes, he would pick up a stick from the ground and putting it over his left arm, would draw across it, as across a violin, a little bow bent by means of a string; and going through the motions of playing, he would sing in French about his Lord. The whole ecstasy of joy would often end in tears."
Unfortunately, if Francis were alive today and brought his often messy bundle of emotions to a church near us, the ushers would promptly show him the door. What a commentary on the death of the spirit of our day.
At this point, it's understandable if you're confused. Francis turned his back on earthly pleasures and worldly wealth to pursue a life of simplicity, poverty, and self denial. But now, Francis has suddenly become a connoisseur of the arts and a man who drinks life to the dregs. Could this be the same man? There's no contradiction here. Instead, Francis make it perfectly clear that one of the main reasons he experienced deep joy was because he intentionally walked away from the things in life that steal our joy. Francis intuitively knew and understood what the social critic Eric Hoffer meant when he said, "The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness."
Like a life-term prisoner who wakes up one morning to find he has been pardoned and is free to leave his dank, dingy cell, Francis made a sudden break with his past and the cares of the world when he embraced his new life of service to God and humanity.
-Lessons of St. Francis ~John Michael Talbot.
"The truth shall set you free." John 8:32
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life" John 14:6
"My secret is very simple: I pray. Through prayer I become one in love with Christ. I realize that praying to Him is loving Him.
In reality, there is only one true prayer, only one substantial prayer: Christ Himself. There is only one voice that rises above the face of the earth: the voice of Christ. Perfect prayer does not consist in many words, but in the fervor of the desire which raises the heart to Jesus.
Love to pray. Feel the need to pray often during the day. Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing Godís gift of Himself. Ask and seek and your heart will grow big enough to receive Him and keep Him as your own." - Mother Theresa, Calcutta, India
Francis jealously guarded his time alone with God, much the way a lover protects shared moments with a partner. Biographies of the saint are brimming over with colorful descriptions of the lengths to which Francis would go to be alone in God's presence, the way this deep spiritual intimacy affected his entire life.
While visiting a friend near the Lake of Perugia, Francis felt an inner nudging to go away and be alone with God. He asked his friend to drop him off on a solitary island in the lake, pleaded with him not to reveal the location to anyone, and requested that the friend pick him up in forty days. Left on the island, which has no buildings, Francis found a dense thicket of thorn bushes and small trees, and built a small shelter in the middle of the thicket. Then he got down to business: "And he began to pray and contemplate heavenly things in the place."
Because Francis realized that it wouldn't always be practical for him and his followers to disappear into the wilderness for weeks at a time, he founded two dozen hermitages during his life, creating havens for intense spiritual intimacy all over the Italian countryside. But while throughout Christian history, people have gone to great lengths to create monasteries and hermitages in out-of-the-way places, that's not the approach Francis took. He founded his house of prayer within easy walking distance of nearby cities so his friars could practice the balancing act between solitary intimacy with God and selfless service to God's people.
For Francis, solitude and service were two sides of the same coin. His followers weren't detached from the world like island dwelling monks, nor were they totally wrapped up in the world like full-service social workers. Francis and his friars were torn between being alone with God and being in the midst of the throngs. But it was clear to Francis that it was the time alone with God that made the periods of service meaningful and productive.
As important as those times of spiritual intimacy with God were to Francis, in the end the experience was impossible to describe, as one biographer wrote: "Francis was often suspended in such sweetness of contemplation that, caught up out of himself, he could not reveal what he had experienced because it went beyond all human comprehension."
- Lessons of St. Francis ~ John Michael Talbot
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. John 1:3
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created. Revelation 4:11
The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
"Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!" Luke 12:24-25
"Every creature in heaven and on earth and in the depths of the sea should give God praise and glory and honor and blessing." - Francis
Outside the sliding glass door of my small hermitage at Little Portion is a bird feeder, which I keep stocked with corn and seeds. From morning to dusk, dozens of redbirds, cardinals, bluebirds, finches, and orioles stop to eat at that feeder. Regardless of whether it's the middle of winter and I'm stuck inside looking out, or whether it's in the dog days of summer and Viola and I are out tending our garden, those beautiful birds visit, giving us a tiny glimpse into the wonders of nature.
Often, as I sit watching the birds and meditating , I enter a state of reverie in which I find myself experiencing deep feelings of love for nature and nature's God. At those moments, I feel particular close to the spirit of Francis, who is honored by the Catholic Church as the patron saint of animals and the environment.
"My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love Him." - Francis
Mother Theresa's best-known speech is an address she gave to the United Nations. Global-trotting evangelist Billy Graham made history when he preached behind the Iron Curtain during the height of the Cold War. St. Francis was a tireless preacher who introduced thousands of people to the Christian message and founded a worldwide order. But Francis's most famous sermon is one he gave to a flock of birds, and this singular event explains why Francis in now enshrined in millions of bird feeders around the world.
One day Francis and some friars were traveling through the Spoleto valley near Bevagna. Looking up and seeing the trees full of doves, crows, and daws, Francis "left his companions in the road and ran eagerly toward the birds" and "humbly begged them to listen to the world of God."
One of the friars recorded the sermon, which overflows with Francis's love for creation and its Creator: "My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you. God made you noble among His creatures, and gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part.
This event was a turning point of sorts for Francis. "He began to blame himself for the negligence in not having preached to the birds before" and "from the day on, he solicitously admonished all birds, all animals and reptiles, and even creatures that have no feeling, to praise and lover their Creator.
Francis's brief encounter with those birds heightened the saint's already profound enchantment with all of God's creation, and for the remainder of his life, Francis loved and looked after birds, some whom provided him with companionship at his private cell, some of whom he rescued from hunters' snares, and some of whom he silenced when their noisy song interrupted his saying of the Mass!
Centuries after the death of Francis, his hometown of Assisi still honors his affection for winged creatures. There, as in other towns, church bells ring three times a day to announce the Angelus, an ancient Christian prayer that honors the incarnation of Jesus. But in Assisi, the reciting of this prayer is accompanied by the feeding of the saint's beloved birds.
-Lessons of St. Francis ~ John Michael Talbot
Service Part I
(Imitation of Christ)
...and taking a towel, He girded Himself Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, "Lord, do You wash my feet?" Jesus answered and said to him, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter." Peter said to Him, "Never shall You wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."
Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head." Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you"...So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? "You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. "If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. "Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them." -Jesus John 13
Francis found his inspiration in the life of Jesus, whose love for us led him to become one of us by being born into the human race instead of remaining in heaven, aloof from us and all our problems.
Most Christian celebrate the Incarnation of Christ as man around Christmastime and ignore it for the rest of the year. But for Francis, the Incarnation served as a minute-by-minute reminder to be deeply involved in the world, loving people at close range instead of from inside the strong, stony walls of a monastery.
But don't get me wrong. Francis wasn't all work and no pray. The saint would devote hours of each day pouring his heart out to God and seeking divine guidance for every facet of his life. He and the other friars also observed weekly fast and regular periods of total isolation, which enabled them to recharge their spiritual batteries after days of caring for people's physical and spiritual needs. Here also they followed the pattern of Jesus, who balanced intense contemplation with loving service to the world. Jesus often retreated from the crowds who surrounded him, going to lonely, isolated spots to spend time fasting and praying in the desert.
Francis understood that the dichotomy between solitude and service is a false one, because everyone needs both. If we don't spend time alone with God, we become spiritually weak, and our work in the world carries little of lasting value. On the other hand, if we spend all our time with God and never venture out into the world, we may be full of wonderful wisdom and divine power, but if we don't share that with others, who benefits? Certainly not the other people, and often, not even ourselves.
Here's how saints down through the ages have explained it: Contemplation and prayer are like an oasis in a dry desert. Through prayer, we store up a huge reservoir of water. Our service is the conduit for delivering the water. But once our reservoir is depleted, we need to return to our oasis so we don't wind up stranded in the desert without water. This is a picture of the life-giving balance between prayer and service.
Francis didn't start out intending to create a movement. When he realized that a movement was growing up around him, he struggled to find the proper balance between solitude and service, prayer and preaching. He also asked others to pray and seek an answer to the dilemma he faced. "What does my Lord Jesus Christ order me to do?" he asked.
Bother Brother Masseo and Sister Clare were enlisted in Francis's intense search for God's guidance on the issue, and both received the same answer, which Brother Masseo reported to Francis: "He wants you to go about the world preaching, because God did not call you for yourself alone but also for the salvation of others.
Likewise God has called all of us to find our own unique balance between solitude and service. -Lessons of St. Francis ~ John Michael Talbot
"...the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant." -Luke 13
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." -Matt 18:1-4
An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, "Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest." -Luke 9:46-48
Service Part II
...Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" He said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground..." Genesis 4:9
"I look upon the world as my parish." - John Wesley
Evangelism conjures up a variety of images. And some people ever argue that talking about religion and trying to persuade others to believe it is a rude, arrogant, and insensitive form of cultural imperialism.
Francis didn't see it that way. He understood evangelism as both a call of God and a social responsibility. It was a call of God, based on the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew to : "Go and make disciples of all nations." It was a social responsibility because Francis believed he had been given a wonderful gift that held the answer to people's spiritual yearning. To keep it to himself would have been tantamount to keeping bread from someone dying of hunger.
The way the first Franciscan friars spread their message was certainly in contrast to the way others were promoting the Christian faith at that time. Remember the Crusades? For three centuries, hundreds of thousands of Christian crusaders crisscrossed Europe, forcing people to "convert" at the point of a sword. Contrast the violence of the Crusades with the gentle manner in which Francis sent out his Friars on a crusade of real love: "As they go about the country, the friars are to take nothing with them for their journey... They should not offer resistance to injury; if a man strikes them on the right cheek, they should turn the other cheek also towards him. If a man would take away their cloak, they should not grudge him their coat along with it. They should give to every man who asks, and if a man takes what is theirs, they should not ask him to restore it."
Before sending his friars throughout the world, Francis bent down and drew a cross on the ground. Perhaps he was thinking about an encounter he had with a crucifix years before.
One day while Francis was seeking God's guidance for his life, he stepped into the ruins of a small church called San Damiano. As Francis prayed and asked God for help, he heard the voice of Jesus speaking from a crucifix. "Francis, go, repair my house," said the voice. And Francis followed the order as best he knew how, carefully renovating the church using stones, mortar, muscles, and sweat.
Maybe, years later, as Francis drew the cross on the ground, he was beginning to see that Jesus had meant something entirely different. Perhaps the building Jesus wanted him to do didn't involve stones and mortar, but spiritual truth and hungry hearts. Maybe sending out friars into the four corners of the world was closer to what Jesus had really meant.
One thing for sure, the message of love the friars took with them was embraced by many, the same way dry, parched ground soaks up the least bit of rain.-Lessons of St. Francis ~John Michael Talbot.
"The men who followed Him were unique in their generation. They turned the world upside down because their hearts had been turned right side up. The world has never been the same." -Billy Graham
"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ." -Martin Luther
Picture God as saying to you, "My son, why is it that day by day you rise, and pray, and genuflect, and even strike the ground with your forehead, nay sometimes even shed tears, while you say to Me: 'My Father, give me wealth!' If I were to give it to you, you would think yourself of some importance, you would fancy that you had gained something very great. Because you asked for it, you have it. But take care to make good use of it. Before you had it, you were humble; now that you have begun to be rich you despise the poor. What kind of a good is that which only makes you worse? For worse you are, since you were bad already. And that it would make you worse you knew not; hence you asked it of Me. I gave it to you, and I proved you; you have found -- and you have found out! Ask of Me better things than these, greater things
...we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh. -James 1: 2-12
The one thing that could easily put the usually sanguine saint into a righteous rage was when he heard one of his brothers saying something nasty about another. Francis tried to avoid getting within earshot of gossipers, whom he called "biting fleas" and whom he said practiced "the vice of detraction." "Disaster confronts the order unless these slandered are checked," he said once. "Quickly the sweetest savor of the many begins to take on a horrible stench, unless the mouths of the stinking are closed."
Another time, Francis condemned those who spread discord. "The detractor feeds on the souls which he kills with his tongue. A detractor is guilty of greater wickedness than a robber, because Christ's law which reaches its perfection in love obliges us to desire the good of our neighbor's soul more than of his body." Anger and accusations gave the Devil a foothold in the community, said Francis, allowing the evil one freedom to work in their midst.
Why was the gentle Francis so rough on trash talkers? It's because he has a deep respect for the power of the tongue and the vulnerability of the soul. He didn't want his brothers, who were focusing on opening their hearts to God and humanity, to be forced to close their hearts to protect themselves from the assaults of their brothers. Francis knew the tongue was capable of great evil, as did the writer of the New Testament book of James.
One doesn't have to live in a friary, or even be a Christian, to see the wisdom of these words. Verbal attacks divide family members, pit worker against employer, cause unnecessary strife and tension in our cities, and help lead to foolish fights between nations of the world. Perhaps what's why Buddha included "right speech" in his "eight fold path," or why Taoism and Confucianism value silence and moderate speech, or why most of the world's faiths counsel us to watch our tongues.
"Far from doing or specking evil to one another," said Francis, "the friars should be glad to serve and obey one another in a spirit of charity. This is the true, holy obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ."
-Lessons of St. Francis ~John Michael Talbot.
When Francis died in 1226 at the age of forty-five, the flight over the issue of poverty was far from settled. Scholars still argue over what Francis really thought about the direction the order took. But in death as in life, he took the way of poverty. When near death, he didn't choose luxurious clothes.. Instead, "He had himself placed naked upon the naked ground."
Sir Kenneth Clark, a man historian, and others refer often to Francis's tremendous impact on a troubled church in the centuries before the Protestant Reformation, as well as his immense influence on European art and culture in the years leading up to the Renaissance. But such accolades make Francis sounds so unbearably stuffy.
I prefer the way a writer for Look magazine called France "a beaded, barefoot, slightly prankish, and largely unfathomable man." But that makes Francis sound slightly goofy. Maybe G.K. Chesterton put it best: "St Francis walked the world like the pardon of God."
Thomas a' Kempis, a Dutch monk who lived a century after Francis, wrote a little book that became a masterpiece of medieval spirituality. His The Imitation of Christ could have served nicely as the title of a book about the life of Francis. "Francis sought not only to follow the words of Christ," wrote one biographer, "he wished also to imitate the life of Christ as perfectly as he could, and he willed that his friars too should 'follow the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ.'"
When one of the Franciscan brothers once asked the saint his preference in a certain matter, Francis's response was clear and sure: "That has always been and still is most dear to me and more sweet and more acceptable which pleases the Lord my God most to let happen in me and with me."
Years later, the authors of one of the most popular books about the saint, The Little Flowers of St. Francis, recounted a brothers vision, which powerfully describes Francis's desire to imitate Christ: "One night when Blessed Peter Pettinaio of the Third Order was praying in the Cathedral of Siena, he saw Our Lord Jesus Christ enter the church, followed by a great throng of saints. And each time Christ raised his foot, the form of his foot remained imprinted on the ground. And all the saints tried as hard as they could to place their feet in the traces of His footsteps, but none of them was able to do so perfectly. Then St. Francis came in and set his feet right in the footsteps of Jesus Christ."
Following God has never been so easy. In times like ours it can seem downright baffling. But Francis gave it his best shot, and today his example continues to inspire many people who are strangely moved by the life of this unique and universal saint.
-Lessons of St. Francis ~John Michael Talbot.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." Mark 8:34-38
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